By Max Wilson | MSc Strength and Conditioning
It’s well known that strength is a key component for successful athletic performance, in any field. The best method for developing strength is weight training, however within the boxing community, and particular amateur boxing, weight training is frowned upon.
Generally this is due to the misconception that weight training reduces speed or will result in large increases in body weight. This supposed increase in body weight is problematic as boxers need to be in the lowest weight class possible to give themselves the best possible physical advantage over their opponent. Therefore any increases in body weight would increase the weight class the boxer fits into and reduce the level of physical advantage they would have.
However, research has shown that if properly managed strength training can increase strength and speed with little effect on body weight! (Kraemer and Ratamess, 2004).
Research has identified that in order to maximise strength development whilst limiting hypertrophy, high loads (>80%1RM) with low rep ranges (3-5 reps) and long rest periods (3-5 min) should be implemented (Kraemer and Ratamess, 2004). This is because heavy weight training has been shown to result in neuromuscular adaptations, which increase muscular efficiency without increasing muscle size (Kraemer and Ratamess, 2004).
In addition to these developments, consistent training at such a high threshold may result in conversion of type 1 to type 2a muscle fibers, resulting in a greater ability to produce powerful muscle contractions (Hales, 2010).
In order to minimise hypertrophy it is important to take long rest periods between sets. This is because strength training results in a build-up of waste products, which cause the release of anabolic hormone which results in hypertrophy (Turner, 2009).
The implementation of long rest periods allows for the dissipation of these waste products and a subsequent reduction in muscle growth.
What the research suggests
Research has suggested that 3 full-body workouts consisting of compound exercises is more effective than performing upper body split routines for developing strength (Kraemer and Ratamess, 2004).
✓ Compound exercises have been found to produce greater increases in strength than single joint exercise, as multiple muscles are trained at once (Kraemer and Ratamess, 2004). Because of this, it important to make these exercises the staples of your routine. It is recommended that, when using compound lifts, large muscle groups are trained first while fatigue is minimal in order to see the greatest benefit.
Specificity for Strength Gains
In order to stimulate sport specific adaptations that could result in improved performance, it is important that training mimics the sports movements.
Boxing primarily consists of unilateral movements (movement of one limb), therefore training should also mainly consist of this movement in order to stimulate functional adaptations.
Research has shown that force production is greater in two limbs working unilaterally than when the same limbs are used together (Coyle et al., 2003, Vandervoot et al., 2003), resulting in greater gains in strength.
A muscular imbalance is a where a muscle is stronger than its opposing muscle e.g. quadricep and hamstring, increasing the risk of injury.
Typically boxers tend to have muscular imbalances:
✓ Between their anterior (front) and posterior (rear) muscles (Amtmann, 2004).
Rear deltoid injuries are a common in boxing, as this muscle is often neglected in training and can lack the strength to exert a braking action following a punch. Because of this, it is important that all strength training programs include exercises designed to strength the posterior musculature.
Recommendations for Strength
✓ Use heavy weights and low reps with long rest periods.
✓ Undertake 3 full body workouts per week.
✓ Train large muscle groups first using compound lifts.
✓ Make training as specific to competition as possible.
✓ Train opposing muscles to avoid muscular imbalances.
✓ Correct form is more important than weight lifted.
✓ Always use a spotter when using heavy weights.
✓ Always consult a doctor before begin any new training programs
Take home message
Strength is an important factor in successful boxing performance. Contrary to the misconception that weight training makes you big and slow, research has shown that is possible to dramatically increase strength with minimal hypertrophy.
Therefore, weight training may have massive beneficial effects on boxing performance without compromising the physical advantages gained by competing in a lighter weight class!